The Fate of Gabrielle Giffords' Congressional Seat

Julie Marsh

gabrielle giffordsGabrielle Giffords continues to astonish both doctors and the public with her incredible recovery following the tragic shooting in Arizona only 10 days ago. The Washington Post reports that she not only recognized and smiled at her husband yesterday, but she also rubbed his neck.

The preservation of her mental and physical abilities, in spite of a gunshot wound to the head, is simply amazing. She has not yet tried to talk, but that will be one of the many activities handled during the rehab phase of her recovery.

As positive as all the news has been thus far, an awkward question still lingers: Can she return to her duties as a Congresswoman?

No one should expect to answer that question so soon after such a grave injury, but it will have to be answered in the coming weeks and months. There's an empty seat in the House, and a district of constituents that are unrepresented. Congress has a packed agenda, and I imagine that Tucson residents would like to have their voices included in the discussion. But neither do I expect that they'd want to cast Giffords by the wayside so soon.

Given that choice, I'd opt to wait and monitor her recovery. But how long is appropriate?

Arizona state law appears to call for a special election if an official is unable to perform his or her duties for three consecutive months. But lawyers and constitutional scholars in Washington have countered that such a vacancy can only be determined by Congress itself.

Unfortunately, that assessment leads me to wonder if a Republican-controlled Congress would be inclined to declare Giffords' seat vacant sooner than a Democratic Congress, given that Giffords is a Democrat and her seat was held by Republican Jim Kolbe from 2003 to 2007. The district is historically conservative, but becoming more socially liberal. Giffords' re-election in 2010 was by the slimmest margin of her three Congressional elections.

Again, it's only been 10 days, and Giffords' recovery thus far has been utterly amazing. Who knows what she'll be doing in a matter of weeks or months. I hope that both Congress and her constituents can exercise a little patience.


Image via Gabrielle Giffords

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